By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ATCHISON, Kan. — What better way to spend a week at the dawn of summer than some good, clean Catholic fun?
Well, scratch the clean.
More than 80 middle-schoolers from eight parishes, mostly from Kansas City’s Northland suburbs, finished their week at Camp Edge June 10-16 with a mile-long obstacle course through the grounds of Maur Hill Mount Academy, learning even more aspects of Catholic faith along the way.
And yes, parents, the course did include a water slide into a muddy pond, a crawl through dirt, and a dash into a mud pit.
But fear not. These middle-schoolers were up to it, as well as the camp’s 32 staff members and 16 chaperones.
In fact, they had a blast while they learned to live their faith fearlessly.
Take for example St. Gabriel seventh grader Xavier Rodriguez, who learned lessons about himself and others during another not-so-clean exercise — paintball.
“We learned that you need to work together,” he said. “If you don’t work together, it’s hard to win by yourself.”
Camp Edge, in its second year, is the “brainchild” of St. Gabriel youth director Diane Pickert.
For years, Pickert had been taking her charges, and others from surrounding parishes, to a camp near St. Louis that was suddenly closed last year when it was hit by a tornado.
She turned to Phil Baniewicz, founder of LifeTeen who became president of Maur Hill-Mount, searching for other camps for her kids when Baniewicz laid down the challenge.
“You know what you’re doing,” Baniewicz told her. “Why not do it yourself and do it here?”
Baniewicz opened up all the facilities and grounds of the private Catholic boarding school and Camp Edge was born last year with 67 campers. This year, Camp Edge hosted 84 campers, and next year?
“We might have to go to two weeks,” Pickert said. “The kids have been telling all their friends that they have to come, and so we’ll have to find a way to accommodate more kids.”
Even though it was a full week of prayer, learning and physical fun, the campers were ready for more.
“We learned about radiating joy,” said Macy Drumright of St. Patrick Parish. “When you are strong in yourself and in God, you are happy.”
But the world may find ways to steal that happiness, said St. Therese sixth grader Olivia Sweeney and seventh grader Abby Nguyen.
“The world and technology try to steal your happiness,” Olivia said. “You have to be happy so that everyone around you can be happy.”
“God really cares about us,” Abby said. “When you pray before Jesus in the monstrance, you can feel how he loves you.”
The campers also had the opportunity to attend Mass in the school’s chapel, celebrated by Father Matthew Bartulica in the “extraordinary” Latin form, with the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, signing in Gregorian chant.
Their verdict? “Cool.”
“I tried to follow along at the beginning, but I was confused,” said Anna Hogan of St. Therese. “But I liked the foreign language, and the nuns sounded like angels.”
“It was different,” said Sarah Niblock of St. Therese. “I thought it was pretty cool.”
For St. Gabriel seventh grader Jake Scheuler, the week was an opportunity to be with people his age who share his faith.
“I learned to spread my joy and share my faith with others,” Jake said. “Sometimes, people will think you’re weird, but it’s about your faith and you sharing it.”
Victoria Johnson, a St. Therese seventh grader, said she will especially remember learning about martyrs, some of them her age.
“They were martyred as young as 12,” she said. “I don’t want to be a martyr, but they were killed because they refused to deny their faith even when they threatened to kill them.”
But the biggest lesson of all?
“I learned you can learn about God and be strengthened by his beauty, but also have a lot of fun in the process,” said Sophia Dominguez-Heithoff, a St. Therese seventh grader.
And that is music to the ears of Jon Schaffhausen, director of the diocesan youth office, and assistant Katie Troup, who helped coordinate the small army of high school, college and seminarian staffers as well as adult volunteers.
“The staff was pretty amazing,” Troup said. “There were times when it was stressful, and times when it was a lot of fun. And there was a lot to get done in a little amount of time.”
“I think this week blew them out of the water,” Schauffhausen said.